German Oak - Down In The Bunker 2xLP


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Label: Now Again

Our Review:

1945. Amid ruin and rubble, German civilians cower as Allied bombs help bring an end to WWII. As citizens of a totalitarian nation whose mad leader launched a brutal war of aggression, and committed terrible crimes against humanity, they are both being punished and liberated. Flash forward twenty-five years to the early '70s. The youthful, idealistic offspring of the WWII generation are now of an age to wonder about and wrestle with what their parents did and experienced during the Hitler years. In the case of the krautrock band German Oak, the approach they took was to hole up in an abandoned air-raid shelter (the Luftschutzbunker), set up their gear and just roll. Let the music unfurl, channelling years of grief and anger and confusion and hope through guitar, drums, bass, organ, fuzz-organ/guitar and "noises."

The band described it like this: "As we played down there in the old bunker, suddenly a strange atmosphere began to work. The ghosts of the past whispered. There has been fear, desperation - but also hope!" Weird sure, and kinda hippy maybe, but what do you expect? It's 1972, five twenty-something German hippies are using music and sound to explore the emotions and tragedies and glories of the last three decades, particularly, the war that shaped their country and the lives of their parents. And indirectly their own lives as well. You can hear it in the music. Dark and frightening, ominous and rumbling. A huge cavernous space, giving everything the appropriate claustrophobic, underground feel, drums stumbling through the darkness, warm swells of guitar and organ billowing out like puffs of smoke. Almost ambient at times, pulsing and pounding at others. This is THE ultimate krautrock record. Super lo-fi but thick and heavy and lush in its own way. The sound of the bunker is definitely another instrument, a primitive caveman studio, adding a subterranean timbre to the creepy jams and abstract rhythms.

Originally released in '72, only 213 records were pressed, all with handpainted covers. The myth states that only 11 copies were sold at the time, which is hard to believe listening to this. Or actually, maybe not that hard to believe. This is politically and personally charged stuff, the militaristic images, the song titles ("Raid Over Dusseldorf", "Down In The Bunker", "1945 - Out Of The Ashes", "Airalert") but mostly the music. So gorgeously spacey and ominous, throbbing and moody. Krautrock occultist Julian Cope, in a review of the first German Oak reissue said heard a lot of Funkadelic and "whiteboy funk" in German Oak's murky spaced out rhythms. We don't hear much "funk" but we do see what he's driving at. The early Funkadelic records were constructed from the same sort of skeletal rhythmic frameworks of stumbling, scrabbly, pulsing, throbbing groove. Sure there are plenty of wah guitars and thumping throbbing bass, but here the guitars are used for rhythm as much as melody and are swaddled in thick swirls of natural underground reverb, and the melodies that do surface are muted and minor key, always slowly meandering, wandering into oblivion. Like Can or Faust if they were Hell's house band, playing last call forever, at the gates of damnation, forced to play on and on and on and on.